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A multi-level examination of school programs, policies and resources associated with physical activity among elementary school youth in the PLAY-ON study

Scott T Leatherdale123*, Steve Manske2, Guy Faulkner4, Kelly Arbour4 and Chad Bredin2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Studies and Surveillance, Cancer Care Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, Canadian Cancer Society and the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

3 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4 Faculty of Physical Education and Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010, 7:6  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-7-6

Published: 25 January 2010



Given the decline in physical activity (PA) levels among youth populations it is vital to understand the factors that are associated with PA in order to inform the development of new prevention programs. Many studies have examined individual characteristics associated with PA among youth yet few have studied the relationship between the school environment and PA despite knowing that there is variability in student PA levels across schools.


Using multi-level logistic regression analyses we explored the school- and student-level characteristics associated with PA using data from 2,379 grade 5 to 8 students attending 30 elementary schools in Ontario, Canada as part of the PLAY-Ontario study.


Findings indicate that there was significant between-school random variation for being moderately and highly active; school-level differences accounted for 4.8% of the variability in the odds of being moderately active and 7.3% of the variability in the odds of being highly active. Students were more likely to be moderately active if they attended a school that used PA as a reward and not as discipline, and students were more likely to be highly active if they attended a school with established community partnerships. Important student characteristics included screen time sedentary behaviour, participating in team sports, and having active friends.


Future research should evaluate if the optimal population level impact for school-based PA promotion programming might be achieved most economically if intervention selectively targeted the schools that are putting students at the greatest risk for inactivity.